RUSSIA’S MIG-41: A SPACEPLANE?
As you can tell, this week we've had a "space concentration" and that's because many people sent space related stories. In any case, for some years we've been hearing of airplanes that can take off and land like a normal airplane, but journey to the edges of - if not to - outer space. The SR-71 "blackbird" spy plane was almost capable of it; the rumored "Aurora" aircraft is supposedly capable of it, and with Russia and China both testing hypersonic missiles the capability is certainly there. The advantages of such a technology both to the military and civilian spheres would be obvious: no specialized launch facilities would be needed, an aircraft could take off and land normally, and perhaps not much extra specialized training would be needed.
Well, Russia is making the claim that its next generation fighter jet - the Mikoyan or MIG-41 - will be able to do just that (thanks to M.D. for spotting and sharing this story):
The claims being made for this unseen fighter are rather astonishing:
It's the alleged capabilities of the MiG-41 that raise a few eyebrows. The MiG-41 will have a speed of almost 3,000 miles per hour, according to a recent article by Russia news organization RIA Novosti (Google translation here). That would translate into a speed of about Mach 3.5. RIA Novosti terms the MiG-41 a “hypersonic” aircraft, though hypersonic is usually defined as speeds greater than Mach 5 (3,836 miles per hour). It will also be armed with hypersonic missiles, and the aircraft can even be turned into a drone.
As if that isn't enough, Ilya Tarasenko, director general of the MiG corporation, told Russian television that the MiG-41 will have unique capabilities. “In particular, it will be be invisible to enemy radars and even be able to work in outer space,” according to RIA Novosti.
Invisibility to enemy radars—known to the rest of the world as stealth—isn't exactly new or surprising for a twenty-first-century jet fighter. But the reference to “outer space” puzzled even Russian media.
“What exactly is meant by this, he, unfortunately, did not specify,” lamented RIA Novosti, which did note that the MiG-31 can launch small satellites into orbit. Which isn't quite the same thing as the MiG-41 launching itself into orbit.
Outer space is generally considered to begin sixty-two miles high, or 327,000 feet. In 1963, a NASA X-15 aircraft reached an altitude of sixty-seven miles high, which remained a world record until the Space Shuttle (considered an aircraft rather than a spacecraft for this purpose) first flew in 1981.
The US Air Force already has a kind of space plane with its drone, capable of taking off and landing normally, and capable of reaching outer space. The Mig-41, it is claimed, could be either a manned or unmanned platform.
So let's assume that all these claims are not simply a propaganda exercise of the sort that nations indulge in when they're trying to persuade other nations not to interfere with or attack them, and deal with the claims themselves. The first thing to note is that if the claims are true, the Mig-41 would be the first public acknowledgement that space will be weaponized. While most of us probably think it already has been weaponized, most of the great powers are denying it has. The second thing to note is how high does "capable of going into outer space" mean? At the minimum, as the article notes, space is considered to begin at 62 miles (or about 100 kilometers). Low earth orbit satellites' orbits generally begin at about 1oo-120 miles or about 190 kilometers. Assuming the Mig-41 could reach to nearly low earth orbit, it becomes a platform which could launch hyper-sonic missiles to satellite targets. Assuming it could go much higher and farther than that, the Mig-41 would be a genuine satellite interceptor and perhaps even an earth-bombardment platform; after all, a hyper-sonic missile can just as easily be an inert kinetic weapon, a "rod of God."
But why develop such a capability to begin with? A glance at international treaties regarding space use, exploration, and weapons provides a clue: as they read now, they ban the stationing of weapons in space, i.e., they ban the basing of weapons in space. An aircraft such as the Mig-41 - if such a thing can ever be successfully designed (and I certainly believe it can) - would be based or stationed on Earth, and carry weapons to space, and return to Earth.
So what's really going on here? To put it bluntly, we've been given a glimpse of how the space powers intend to skirt existing treaties. From there, it's a short step to the public acknowledgement of what is probably already true: space has already been secretly weaponized.
See you on the flip side...
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